The Polite World

Anything related to indie blogging culture

I Always Say Yes

The best thing about the internet is getting to read beautifully written, thoughtful music commentary like Thursday’s post at Moistworks (which, for lack of title, I am calling “I Always Say Yes”). I spent the week watching old episodes of “Life On Mars,” a British show about a guy who has a car accident in 2006 and wakes up in 1973, and topped the whole thing off with Brian’s excellent story about a flyer he found tacked to a telephone pole in the small town of Hillsborough. The flyer had nothing on it but an address, but Brian went and found the place it referred to, feeling very strongly that he was having a sort of mystical experience. I hope he will excuse me for quoting a bit of the post:

Let me be clear – I didn’t think the flyer was there specifically for me, and while I fantasized that if I found the address, there would be further instruction – another flyer, or some other cue – I didn’t really believe this would be the case either. What mattered here was choice, and my awareness of it – here was a portal indeed, a chink in the armor of the constructed day I could step through, if I chose to, and perhaps tease out some thread in the world that would have otherwise remained concealed. If it was mine or for me, it was only because I noticed it and chose to honor that noticing.

Have you ever looked into a dark doorway or at a blank flyer or into a mirror and felt that you were on the edge of something? I have. Brian urges us to take the step off the beaten path and head out and explore the unknown; the path not taken, so to speak. To find a thread that might not lead anywhere, and follow it anyway. In this I was reminded strongly of the Miyazaki movie “Spirited Away.”

Chihiro, the heroine of the piece, makes two choices that change the direction of the movie completely. One is involuntary — she follows her parents through a strange tunnel and into a deserted amusement park, which turns out to be run by a witch named Yubaba. Her second choice is voluntary — she gets on a train that only goes one way, in order to save her friend Haku from dying. Both times she is not sure where she’s headed, but takes the adventure in pretty good stride. And both times it turns out spectacularly well, full of friends and life and in Chihiro’s case, a radish spirit and a baby that gets turned into a hamster. (This would probably not happen to you, however.)

I think Brian and Miyazaki are saying the same thing: the unknown beckons. Take a step, and it will lead to magic.

Spirited Away — A Road To Somewhere

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I’m on semi-hiatus — laziness always hits me around this time of year — but I just read an excellent and thought-provoking article at Moistworks. Now those lads at MW are always writing great stuff, which most of you know. And this one is about indie, or should I say, “indie,” and whether it’s now viewed as an ideology, or an aesthetic. By which I mean, does indie still mean “independent, stays off the major labels, doesn’t sell out, has a certain set of musical rules” or does it mean, “a label slapped onto a genre of music by radio stations and corporations who want to evoke a certain sense of rebelliousness where there really is none”?

My opinion is that the former has morphed over the years into the latter. This has happened to multiple genres, and it has to do with money, the passage of time, and youthful elitism fading as proponents get older. But all you have to do is wander over to the hype machine and check out what kind of blogs call themselves “indie” blogs to realize that current indie music is everything from radio-friendly mainstream rock (Radiohead) to folk country (Rocky V.) to alt-country (Old 97s) to shoegaze (Xiu Xiu) to lit-rock (Decemberists) to electronic dance (Ladytron). They all now shelter under the friendly umbrella of the indie aesthetic.

Is this bad? To some folks, especially those who remember the days of the indie tenets fondly, yes. In my opinion … no, but I have never really been tied to any genre philosophy. Whatever the music I like is called, I will keep listening to it, as I have done my whole life. Major label? Fine. Heard on a commercial or TV show? Great. CD handed to me on the street at Mann’s Chinese? All righty then. I just like music and I really don’t care what it’s called or where it comes from. My favorite comment on the Moistworks post came from a fella named Ben, who says: I’d add only that how something is discovered might not matter as much as the fact that is it discovered. On with the discovery.

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Discover magazine profiles the Viennese Vegetable Orchestra, who buy their delicious instruments fresh every night and make soup with them after the concert.

Nerve and IFC.com profile 50 great moments in comedy. My favorite: #29, “Argument to Beethoven’s 5th,” the beautifully choreographed argument between Sid Caesar and Nanette Fabray.

New video for Vanessa Paradis’s song “L’incendie.” Curse you, woman, how can you have had two children and look like that?

At Muzzle of Bees, Steve Earle joined by the angelic Emmylou Harris singing “Goodbye.”

Via Chromewaves, the video for the band of scottish awesomeness: Sons & Daughters’ “Gilt Complex.”

And via Catbirdseat, a nice little article from the NY Press about how indie is the new adult contemporary. Psh, guys, seriously, Scott beat you to that like 8 months ago. And since you’re so cool with Feist being mainstream and stuff, you can join the club. K? K. (I’ll leave the Soof half-insults to any reader who can stand the guy.)

And to back that premise up, you can now stream Feist and Constantines singing “Islands In the Stream,” and it’s perfectly lo-fi adult contemporary whitebread country and it’s AWESOME, and I say that with no shame whatsoever, because the Bee Gees and Dolly Parton are also awesome. (Kenny Rogers is not awesome, but he knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, and I respect that.)

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For all you skinny jeans wearing folks out there — you know who you are, but you’re probably over at Catbirdseat right now — Threadless has reprinted your shirt. I know, true coolness doesn’t advertise, but if you don’t apprise the hoi polloi, no one will be able to figure it out. Xref the Simpsons:

Marge: Am I cool, kids?
Bart & Lisa: No.
Marge: Good. I’m glad. And that’s what makes me cool, not caring, right?
Bart & Lisa: No.
Marge: Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we’ve tried everything here.
Homer: Wait, Marge. Maybe if you’re truly cool, you don’t need to be told you’re cool.
Bart: Well, sure you do.
Lisa: How else would you know?
[Homerpalooza]

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Being pretty hoi in the polloi myself, I’m gonna just talk about some things I like.

01. According to La Onda Tropical, my faithful reference for what’s cool on the Latin front, the new hot beat is called New Cumbia (aka Kumbia), and it’s based on Colombian folk dance. Me, I was still grooving to reggaeton, but I like the cumbia too; faithful readers will know I’m a sucker for anything with a good beat. You can preview the nueva cumbia at La Onda or check out some stuff I snagged off the Hype Machine:

MIA — Paper Planes (Sonido Martines Guacharaca remix)
El Trip Selector — Cumbiancherita
Oro 11 — Que Calor (Pibes Chorros vs DJ Unh)

02. Gvs.B had a link to this Swedish dude who emanates a serious folk sound á la Donovan or similar — The Tallest Man On Earth. I can’t vouch for the veracity of his tallness, but the music is a major throwback to a certain time when American music was in thrall to a certain kinky-haired folk poet whose name shall go unmentioned. With a nice Swedish twist. Me likey.

The Tallest Man On Earth — I Won’t Be Found

03. Did I mention there was this disc out called “Heretic Pride”? I must have mentioned it. Ahaha. Well, so, yes. I like it very much, although what’s coming out later this year is stiff competition for best album. I am truly amazed by the jewelboxes of stories that Darnielle weaves — you open them up and look inside and it’s this itty bitty story with these amazing facets. One of the best and most detailed is the song “So Desperate,” which contains the best couplet on the whole album: We were parked near some trees; and the moonlight soaked the branches in ever-deepening degrees.

Not to mention (as many have already, so let me be brief) the song “Autoclave,” which presents love in a whole new scientifically toxic way. An autoclave is a sterilizing pressurizing unit, and Darnielle manages to put an entirely new twist on an age-old genre by simply saying, “My heart is an autoclave.” Talk about defeating anxiety of influence, folks. The song is kind of a love song (Darnielle said so at the gig I attended) but it’s also about being so toxic that no one can get near you: direct your attention, if you please, to the final stanza of the song.

I dreamt that I was perched atop a throne of human skulls
on a cliff above the ocean; howling wind and shrieking seagulls.
And the dream went on forever, one single static frame —
sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Gorgeous use of a pop culture phrase to mean its exact opposite. In “Cheers,” they meant that you go to where your friends are. This guy in this song, though, he goes to notoriety a whole different way. If you’re sitting on a throne made of human skulls, you can be sure that everyone knows your name.

I shan’t go on. Suffice to say, I’m in love all over again.

The Mountain Goats — Autoclave

04. New Old 97s album coming out in May! I have such a girly crush on these guys and their sound — proof that alt-country is still kicking its heels up somewhere in Texas, so ha ha, Aquarium Drunkard, take that. And the new song sounds great; I’m really excited to hear the rest.

The Old 97s — Dance With Me

05. Another great record that will be out in 8 short days is DeVotchKa’s “A Mad & Faithful Telling.” It continues DeVotchKa’s gypsy rock folk tradition; and though I can’t say that I’m their biggest fan, in small doses I really love the brass-and-dance sound. DeVotchKa is also going on tour in Europe and the US.

DeVotchKa — Comrade Z

06. And something I’ve forgotten to mention for a month, but it’s still awesome: The Rich Girls Are Weeping has returned to us. Frabjuous day! Calloo callay! (I’m chortling in my joy, all right? Geez.)

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The Scotchcast

Usually I don’t have the ability to listen to podcasts. My kid talks my dang ear off, so putting on headphones and concentrating on someone else is impossible while he’s going, “Mom…mom…mom, mom, mom, mom, mom,” et cetera. But this weekend he and my husband are on a little roadtrip. And noodling ’round the internet, I happen to notice that Matthew of Song, By Toad has collected some great Scottish music of 2007. He calls it, “the Scotchcast.” Clever, no?

And I know that all year, Matthew has been subtly telling me to get my sorry butt in gear and listen to some Scottish music already. So I get a whole hour and a half of quiet to listen to it, and of course it’s awesome, from the sexy “Boy That You Love” to the gorgeous Emma Pollack and crazy Highland folk group The Pendulums. And lo and behold, I hit 1 hr 26 minutes and I get my own personal shoutout! *waves in direction of Scotland* So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to put on some plaid and rock out to Sons & Daughters. Love that intro to “Gilt Complex.” *headbangs*

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Apology

I want to apologize to Ryan from the Catbirdseat, who posted a nice comment onto my last post, even though I maligned his site … by mistake I marked the comment as spam and then Akismet did its thing (I’m very tired this morning). Ryan fills a niche too, let’s not forget. There always has to be someone out there who’s faster and more smug than you, someone with the opposite view who fires you up and makes you think.

That being said, let’s adjourn to the 19th century.

Hector Berlioz — La Gloire (from “Benvenuto Cellini”). Performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Colin Davis.

[ed note — This got long. I’m not apologizing; but I will apologize because there’s no obligatory mp3. I’m sure you can find something to amuse you.]

Hello! How are you? Did you have a good Radiohead Day? I’m fine, thanks. I’m very enthusiastic about Radiohead Day, so let’s talk economics. I received the download code in my email this morning — about twenty seconds later, the file was on my desktop (unlike some sad folks, I could not care less about bit rate, so that didn’t factor in). Twenty seconds later, I could listen to the music, which is really the bottom line.

It’s the libertarian way of doing things — let people decide for themselves how much the commodity is worth to them. Some of them pay a lot for a box set; some pay a reasonable amount and buy the download; some pay nothing and feel bad about it and pay later; and some pay nothing at all and feel justified in doing so. It’s all part of the equation. Libertarians have a deep independent streak and a (possibly misplaced) faith in peoples’ abilities to regulate themselves. Only you know how much you paid or didn’t pay for “In Rainbows,” but I would be willing to bet that Yorke & co. made a good pile of money off it; as much as any represented artist would have made. This morning Connor from IGIF noted that when he polled 27 people on his campus green, half of them were listening to it. I would be willing to bet that most of them, college students though they were, paid something, and even $2 is better revenue than pirating.

Of course, Radiohead has the freedom to do such a thing; they paid their dues, so to speak, and their fame is so well established that they can circumvent the system. They used word of mouth so effectively that probably 12 hours after they posted their site, I heard about the album from half of my RSS feeds. While Beck went the opposite route, creating a physical form that everyone wanted, Radiohead has masterfully ridden the wave of immediately available infotainment. Music blogs jumped on it — pounced, even — gleefully counting down the days and basically talking about Radiohead ad nauseum. I’m not even that big of a fan, but even I felt the hype boiling overhead like a thunderstorm.

Which brings me to the series of articles written by the author of Pretty Goes With Pretty; it’s called, “Can’t Talk, Hyping.” Ironically I had never heard of this blog (which doesn’t mean much), but for some reason I still read Catbirdseat, which recommended it. The four-part article criticizes mp3 blogs for forgetting their roots and becoming mini hype machines, churning out recommendations for money and based on promo advances nudged at them by record labels. To join the conversation, intimates this article, one must download an enormous quantity of music at breakneck speed, present it with “an audio clip, myspace link, a list of tour dates, and — not always — a perfunctory they’re grrrreat!” (part II).

Two forces make this article completely correct in every way. One is what I call the Catbirdseat effect; the smugness of the folks that sit with their music you’ve never heard of, and mock you because you are five minutes behind the hype. Catbirdseat today ridiculed people’s love of Radiohead by posting a fake review, complete with disclaimer: “PLEASE NOTE: I have not downloaded or listened to In Rainbows.” See? They’re so far ahead that they don’t even have to hear the music to make fun of people who like it.

The second is the Goodhodgkins phenomenon — the simple overwhelming nature of music that falls under the indie genre. It drowns anyone who tries to keep on top of it; maybe three blogs I know actually make a stab at completism. Those blogs become the type that PGWP despises: perfunctory, swift, and overposted. Many of them make good money doing it, too, because someone out there has to try and keep their finger on the pressure point. I certainly don’t want that job (witness my infrequent postings! I’d be a mess). If you have Goodhodgkins phenomenon weariness, you bemoan how much music is out there. You can’t keep up with it. It hurts you to try. You give up. I admit, I’ve been feeling Goodhogkinsy myself these days. And I agree with PGWP; lately I’ve been tacking up lots of mp3s without much writing attached to it. How many times and how many ways can you say “awesome” or “well put together” or “great instrumentalism”? Not too many, I’ve found.

When those two forces combine, a writer feels like she is not only drowning in music, she’s going under so fast that she will never be ahead of the curve, so she pushes harder and hypes faster (or quits altogether?). So the article is completely right. And yet, and yet. It ends asking why don’t all the music blogs get together and talk about ideas? Why don’t we push an agenda like lit blogs instead of going arm in arm with record companies?

Several reasons, I imagine. One, the age and status of the usual music blogger would tend to be a person who consumes a ton of music quickly, spits it out, and loves to be on top and have high stats. Coolness = stats to those people. I don’t have a problem with that, though it isn’t my thing (in interest of full disclosure, I get between 600 and 800 hits a week, if I post). One thing that bothers me about PGWP’s article is that it sees listeners as rubes, gawking at the hype and not understanding the machine behind it. Of course (some) bloggers make money; they get free promos; they put ads up on their website and some of them get thousands of dollars to do it. Good for them; like I said, they fill a niche. Are the visitors to a site like Brooklynvegan so stupid that they don’t see it’s a lot of business? I surely hope not. And stats must equal coolness; I see many “famous” sites quoted over and over like the nerds quoting the cheerleaders. Someone’s always got to be the cheerleader (and yes, I’ll take the nerd position, thanks).

Two, music is personal; more personal than even a novel, especially since no one reads these days. We music lovers have a secret fetish for hearing the same tunes in different guises. We probably have 4000 songs on our iTunes that are about heartbreak, and 4000 more about falling in love. Some people lovingly caress one or two albums a year; others zip through fifty or sixty and are just as happy. Everyone is looking for that chord in them to be struck, that one chord that no one else can hear, the shiver up the spine. How can you initiate a dialogue about that chord, that thing that is so personal? I venture to say that you can’t have a conversation about it, per se. But you can put it out there and hope that someone will come along who hears the same chord. I don’t get enough comments on this site to fill a pint jar; why then do I write? Why did I bother with these words at all? Am I just hollering uselessly into the void? I don’t know. What I do know is that when I hear music that strikes a chord in me, I vibrate, and sometimes I reflect that musical chord, that personal love, with words. I’m not a musician, and all I can do is write down my love.

Some people take that personal fetish and make it political; they parlay their friendly persona into visitors and money and hype and (you might say) soullessness. But for every soulless hype site, there are five sites that keep the personal personal. Those sites are still out there, plugging away, telling us about their memories, their experiences, talking to unknown readers for no reason whatsoever. They don’t have an agenda, and they don’t want to have one (or their agenda is, like Muruch, to expose a certain genre of music). They get great stats, maybe, or they don’t, and they use record companies to help obtain what they like, not just to boost numbers. Using myself as an example — I sift through what the record companies send me. Sometimes I even slap an mp3 up with a “they’re grrrreat.” Not everything hits my buttons, that’s for sure. I even like to talk about what I don’t like. Sometimes — gasp! — I even like to talk about what everyone else is talking about too. Sometimes I don’t. Is it hype, or love, or something in between?

Hey reader, I’m talking to you! You out there, with your Radiohead on! For what it’s worth, I liked “In Rainbows.” Probably I’m gonna write about it. You should too. Don’t forget what Thom Yorke says: “Don’t get any big ideas / they’re not gonna happen.” Or like Homer says, the lesson is, never try. Right? You might make some money off what you love and earn the eternal scorn of the Catbird set, even though they’ve got ads all the way up the right sidebar. You might fill a need, you might get so popular you can go around the rules. Who knows? It’s a big infotaining world out there — someone might holler back at you from the void.

This is my attempt to list women who write music blogs [I went ahead and added myself to it in case anyone is copying this down]. If you are female and you write for a music blog, drop a comment! The Polite World is so much larger than I can navigate, but I want to add you to the list. [And if I put you on here by mistake and you’re not female… please enlighten me.]

Abbey from Punkphoto
Alex, host of Blogfresh Radio
Ali Marcus from Womenfolk
Alicia at Bigstereo
Ally from Dustysevens
Andrea from Six By Nine
Andrea from Warped Reality
Ann from Pogo Princess
Amy from The Lovely Mrs. Davis Tells You What To Think
Amy from Shake Your Fist
Artifact from Obsession Collection
Audrey from melodynelson.com
Betty from Bunch of Bettys
Cassi from Everything Falls Apart
CC at Dreams of Horses
Cindy from Adzuki Bean Stash
Cindy and Pinkie from TRGAW
Clea from Small Ages
Colleen from Sugartown
Danielle from Music Is Art
Dee at My Old Kentucky Blog
Elizabeth from The Roaring Machine
Ginny from My Little Ghost Friend
Heather the Hell Ya! DJ
Heather from I Am Fuel
Heather from Lyrical Venus
Heather from Ugly Floral Blouse
Holly Perry at Broken Dial
Hoon from Antarctica Starts Here
Irene from brokencalm.com
Jamila from Fucking Dance
Jana from Jana Pochop
Janet from Out the Other
Jax and Nicole from Rock Insider (apologies to Aubrey!)
Jen at The Music Slut (<3) Jessica at The Selector
Joanna at Moistworks
Kate from The Glorious Hum
Kelly from Looking At Them
Koren at Merry Swankster
Laura (Miss Modernage) from The Modern Age
Linda and Alaina from Speed Of Dark
Lisa at 3hive
Liz from Headphones On
Liz from The People’s Dance Party
Liza from Copy, right?
Lizz from No Dessert For You
Lizzie from Come Pick Me Up
Marcy from Benzaiten Music
Marcy from Lost In Your Inbox
Maria from Her Jazz
Marissa from More Dynamics!
Maura, editor of Idolator
Megan from Brainstorm Music
Meredith from Quick, Like A Bunny
Moka, Saisai, Lotus, Kahlo, and Issa at Motel de Moka
Natalie from Mini-Obs
Niina at Girlpants
Nora from I Rock I Roll
Olga and Jewlie from Fabulist!
Rachel from Underrated Magazine
Rachel from Untitled Records
Rayna from Modyfier
Rebecca from Strawberryfire
Sheryl and Jaime from Shelves of Vinyl
Taylor from T-Sides
Trill42 from Kofi’s Hat
Victoria from Muruch
Zara from Bon Ton
Zeina from Slave To the Details

(total of 68 sites and 77 rockin’ ladies)